"Are we going to remain victims of our past or survivors who will yet thrive?"
Who: Josh Aryeh, founder and CEO at Lions View Development. He’s also the founder of the nonprofit Smiles Through Cars, where he dresses up as Batman, rides a Lamborghini-turned-Batmobile, and visits sick and underprivileged children in hospitals, outpatient centers, and in their homes to cheer them up.
What: I don’t know how Josh does it — on the one hand, he runs a real estate investment company that raised $350 million in the last few years. And on the other hand, he spends most of his time building his chesed empire. How does he juggle them both? He explained to me that he began his own company in order to create a flexible work schedule, freeing him up to work out of his car in between hospital visits.
Where: While Josh resides in Lawrence, New York, he can often be found speeding around the Tristate area giving toys and exotic car rides to sick and underprivileged children, putting huge smiles on their faces.
Why: Josh, 34, is a hero to countless people. He’s already delivered over 30,000 toys, has been honored by Project Extreme and the One Israel Fund, leverages his “Batman Real Account” on Instagram to inspire his 150,000 followers to do good for others, and aims to impact the lives of a million people with his team of volunteers. But what touched me most was how his personal struggles empowered him. He was bullied throughout his childhood, and his younger sister became sick and passed away at age 18. He decided to learn from his dark moments to become a light for others.
1. What opportunities or personalities played a key role in your career path?
Throughout our lives, we have endless opportunities, yet it’s our mindset and outlook in life that enable us to either see them or deny them. Years ago, I embraced a gam zu l’tovah mindset, that no matter what happens, it is for the best. I believe this was a big contributor to my success. No matter how big the setback, I always knew it was part of the journey and that enabled me to grow with each experience.
I started off thinking I was going to become a special-ed teacher, since I spent my high school years volunteering weekly for various special-ed programs. When I was in college, a cousin offered me a job in his Manhattan-based real estate company. At first, it wasn’t something I enjoyed much, since my passion was to help others, but as time went on, my knowledge and love for real estate grew — plus, I realized that working in the real estate industry would give me the flexibility to make more money while spending time volunteering as well. I was able to visit children and then go to my car for a Zoom or conference call.
In March 2020, with the pandemic, real estate development came to a grinding halt, and lenders and investors began asking for their money back. My volunteer life was also affected, since my team and I weren’t able to visit children in hospitals anymore. Nevertheless, I tried to maintain a positive outlook, using the time to expand my existing skill set, and also to learn about other businesses. I also shifted focus at the charity, moving from in-person visits to socially distanced drive-by visits. Between March and July of 2020, my team and I did more than 600 drive-by visits for children and adults battling various illnesses. Bottom line — it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and to also be ready, willing, and able to pivot from the techniques which may have worked in the past.
As one of my cousins was a member of an exotic car club, I grew up with an interest in exotic cars. He’d bring home a different car almost every week, and while in the beginning I was only allowed to go for rides, once I got older, I could drive them too. Soon I developed a reputation for driving high-end cars, and occasionally I’d get calls asking if I could drive a sick child. One day, I received a call asking if I could give a ride to an eight-year-old girl who had cancer — and always dreamed of riding in a Lamborghini. Luckily that week I had a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo convertible. I coordinated the surprise with the family to meet the girl at her house in between chemo treatments.
I was sitting in front of the house when I saw a little girl being brought out in a wheelchair. She didn’t look too happy, but the minute she saw the bright yellow Lambo in front of her house, her entire face lit up with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. She got into the car and I drove her around for 30 minutes. The top was down, music was blasting, and her smile remained on her face the entire time. As soon as she was wheeled back into her house, the mother started crying. I thought maybe I said or did something offensive, since it was my first time giving a ride to a sick child, but she said, “No, you don’t understand why I’m crying. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of four. She’s had more than 20 surgeries, she had to be quarantined, she had a bad infection that left her paralyzed. This is the first time I’ve seen my daughter smile since she was diagnosed four years ago.”
I realized that if I could have such a positive impact on a child during a time of despair by doing something so simple, I wanted to do whatever I could to make it happen more often. For about seven years, I continued visiting sick kids and giving them rides in the various exotic cars. One day, I heard someone in Maryland named Lenny Robinson, who would dress up as Batman and use his convertible Lamborghini to visit sick kids. I thought that was pretty amazing, since I never heard about anyone else using their exotic car to help sick kids. A few years after that, I heard unfortunate news that Lenny was on the highway and was killed by a car that didn’t see him. I never had the privilege to meet Lenny but I wanted to continue his legacy and visit the sick kids as Batman. I sent my car to Impressive Auto Body in Oceanside, New York, to have my car transformed into a “Batmobile.” I teamed up with the NYPD, the Nassau County Police, and other agencies to make the experience even better for the kids. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to volunteer to visit more than 25,000 children to keep Lenny Robinson’s memory alive.
2. Which three character traits have played a key role in your career path?
Optimism. No matter what happens in life, you need to embrace it and understand that it’s for the best. We may not be able to control the cards we are dealt in this Game of Life, but we can control how we choose to play those cards. Are we going to remain victims of our past or survivors who will yet thrive?
I remember hearing a story about a rav who would give a shiur a few times per week. One day on the way to the shiur he got into a horrific accident. On the way to the hospital in the back of the ambulance the rav asked, “Why did this happen to me? I was on the way to give a shiur and now I’m in an ambulance on the way to the hospital!”
Due to the severity of the accident, the hospital had to do a full-body inspection. There were no internal injuries related to the accident, but the medical team did detect some abnormalities in his brain. Upon further testing they discovered a tumor that would have been inoperable had they found it even a little later.
Throughout life, we’re going to encounter unexpected situations, whether in business, relationships, or countless other situations. We need to be ready, willing, and able to maintain a positive attitude and continue pushing forward until the storm passes. It’s now August 2021, and real estate in Manhattan is still not back to normal. My team and I started doing our preliminary due diligence to look at potential income-producing properties as well as development properties in other regions. It’s scary because we’ve always focused on the East Coast, but if we implement the same core principles, I believe we can succeed in other areas as well.
Humility. I try to constantly reflect on the fact that there are always circumstances we have absolutely nothing to do with that enable us to further our successes. Those were put in place for us by Hashem, and He is ultimately responsible for our success.
I once heard a story about a multibillionaire, in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in his time. He had one final request: to be buried with his socks on. The man died, and at the funeral, the man’s children saw that their father’s socks were being taken off.
Immediately they yelled, “Stop! Don’t take off his socks! Our father’s final request was to be buried with his socks!”
The rabbi explained that it was against Jewish law and he was sorry but he had to bury their father without his socks on. The children were utterly distraught, but they had no other choice. The father was buried and all the children went back to their father’s house. Once they were all back at home, the attorney handling their father’s estate asked all the children to come into one room. Once they were all seated, the attorney read the father’s final letter. “Dear children, even someone like me, one of the wealthiest people in the world, still needs to abide by Hashem’s rules, and we are all buried the same way.”
Goal-Oriented. I set measurable goals in both the business and nonprofit worlds. This way I can assess success and failure, and I can determine what needs to be tweaked or adjusted. My team and I establish goals with different timelines — some are daily, weekly, and monthly, and some go out a year or longer. In order for us to reach our long-term goals, we establish lots of micro goals along the way. Creating and updating goals has helped both my business and my nonprofit organization succeed, and it’s also helped us get through the tough times.
4. What would you say was your most resounding failure? What did you take away from that experience?
My most resounding failure occurred toward the end of my teenage years. I had multiple opportunities to network with some of the most successful people in the industries where I was aspiring to work. However, I was intimidated by them and refrained from introducing myself. As I got older (and wiser), I learned to believe in myself and to not be intimidated by others who were more successful. It’s important to keep in mind that we are all created in the image of Hashem, and we are all valued as such. Money and fame are not part of our essence — we aren’t any greater nor any less because of our economic successes or failures. Looking back now, I realize that it was foolish to be intimidated.
5. What do you do to relax, recharge, or simply have fun? How do you make time for that, and how often?
If I had three extra hours a day, I would spend it visiting sick children. It’s my passion to bring a smile to the face of suffering kids, and to enable them to escape their pain even if it is only for a few minutes.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from a children’s hospital in Westchester, where they were treating a five-year-old battling stage 4 cancer with a prognosis of a few weeks to live. His final wish was to go into an exotic car, and we arranged the surprise for the following weekend outside of the hospital. The child, along with his family members and staff, came outside to attend his exotic car show. They thought that I was only bringing one car but I called some of our amazing volunteers to explain the severity of the situation — and we surprised him outside the hospital with more than 70 Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, McLarens, Porsches, Rolls-Royces, and a few other makes. I’ve always had a passion for exotic cars, so I’m thrilled that I was able to figure out how to combine my passion to use the cars for a much greater purpose.
6. What was the most inspiring feedback you’ve ever received? Did that impact what you did next?
Yaniv Sides was a member of the NYPD and a pillar in the Five Towns community. Unfortunately, in April 2020, Yaniv started having health issues. He went to the doctor and found out that he had cancer, and passed away less than a month after he was diagnosed.
A few weeks later one of his children, Liev, was turning ten. I received a phone call from Menashe Friedman of Kids for Courage at 3 p.m. to inform me that it was Liev’s birthday. The two of us made lots of phone calls to arrange a surprise birthday drive outside his house in Cedarhurst — and despite only having two hours to prepare for the event, it was absolutely priceless.
Not only did we bring a few of the exotic cars but Hatzolah, Hatzolah Air, Nassau County Police Department, Nassau County ESU, NYPD, Woodmere Fire Department, Lawrence/Cedarhurst Fire Department, Achiezer, and of course family and friends joined as well. The surprise didn’t stop here though — it was featured on Channel 12 News, Channel 7 News, and Fox News multiple times.
7. If you were asked to deliver a TED Talk that would be watched by 50 million people, what topic would you choose to speak about? Why?
I would talk about my own life and I would call it “From Darkness to Light.” I was bullied as a young child for many years, until the middle of high school. Toward the end of my teenage years, my sister suddenly became sick and passed away seven days later. I’ve had many other issues and struggles, but these dark moments in particular have made me more empathetic toward others who are struggling in their own lives. I believe that it’s important for us to talk about our hardships in order to help others realize that they’re not alone and that they can and will get through the tough times.
8. How do you navigate the tension between your deepest values and the business world?
Honestly, I’ve never had to navigate any tensions between my values and the business world. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I made sure to always work for companies that aligned with my core beliefs. This approach enabled me to avoid difficult situations that would require me to choose between my values and my job. I know there are others who may disagree, but I would rather avoid any precarious situations rather than have to navigate them.
When I’m dressed as Batman, no one knows if I’m Jewish, so I was surprised that on one particular visit, the father asked if I’d mind visiting their child even though they’re not Jewish. At first, I was taken aback by the question, so I asked the father why he thought I’d mind. The father proceeded to tell me that they are from out of town and don’t interact with a lot of Jews. They see on the news about the conflicts with Jews in Israel and therefore he assumed that every Jew would have a confrontation with non-Jewish people. I explained to him how far this was from the truth, that as Jews we’re taught to honor all human beings, that the Jewish People are lovers of peace, and that we’re all created in the image of G-d. The father had never heard this before, and then proceeded to ask if he could give me a hug.
9. If you were advising a young man or woman hoping to launch a career as an entrepreneur, which “do’s” and “don’ts” would you share?
I would ask them to think about how they would choose to spent their time if money didn’t matter. Too often, people choose a career path based on how much money they believe they will earn rather than what would bring them happiness each day as they work for the next 50-plus years. And I would remind them of the obvious, because it is difficult to actually put into practice when the time comes: Although you may have worked hard, and you may be a very talented or experienced individual, at the end of the day, you must acknowledge that your success comes from Hashem. As quickly as you may have found success, it can disappear even faster. This will keep you humble in all your dealings.
Moe Mernick runs business development at a high-growth tech company, gives a daily daf yomi shiur, and produces short, inspiring videos on each daf (available on TorahAnytime and AllDaf). He holds an MBA and semichah, wrote a book about growing through challenges (The Gift of Stuttering), and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife and children.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 877)
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